, Volume 99, Issue 3, pp 507-523

Eye-head-hand coordination in pointing at visual targets: spatial and temporal analysis

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This study investigated whether the execution of an accurate pointing response depends on a prior saccade orientation towards the target, independent of the vision of the limb. A comparison was made between the accuracy of sequential responses (in which the starting position of the hand is known and the eye centred on the target prior to the onset of the hand pointing movement) and synergetic responses (where both hand and gaze motions are simultaneously initiated on the basis of unique peripheral retinal information). The experiments were conducted in visual closed-loop (hand visible during the pointing movement) and in visual openloop conditions (vision of hand interrupted as the hand started to move). The latter condition eliminated the possibility of a direct visual evaluation of the error between hand and target during pointing. Three main observations were derived from the present work: (a) the timing of coordinated eye-head-hand pointing at visual targets can be modified, depending on the executed task, without a deterioration in the accuracy of hand pointing; (b) mechanical constraints or instructions such as preventing eye, head or trunk motion, which limit the redundancy of degrees of freedom, lead to a decrease in accuracy; (c) the synergetic movement of eye, head and hand for pointing at a visible target is not trivially the superposition of eye and head shifts added to hand pointing. Indeed, the strategy of such a coordinated action can modify the kinematics of the head in order to make the movements of both head and hand terminate at approximately the same time. The main conclusion is that eye-head coordination is carried out optimally by a parallel processing in which both gaze and hand motor responses are initiated on the basis of a poorly defined retinal signal. The accuracy in hand pointing is not conditioned by head movement per se and does not depend on the relative timing of eye, head and hand movements (synergetic vs sequential responses). However, a decrease in the accuracy of hand pointing was observed in the synergetic condition, when target fixation was not stabilised before the target was extinguished. This suggests that when the orienting saccade reaches the target before hand movement onset, visual updating of the hand motor control signal may occur. A rapid processing of this final input allows a sharper redefinition of the hand landing point.